The Nintendo Switch is the latest piece of gaming gear everyone’s got to have. But spare a thought for what the Switch replaces: the underappreciated WiiU. Liam Maguren takes to the pulpit to share some stories and plead for the maligned console’s legacy.
How does one kick off a funeral? Is it insensitive to crack a joke? Do I thank the deceased’s family for allowing me the honour to speak? Should I even consider it an honour? I don’t know. Let’s just begin.
The Nintendo Wii was a global gaming phenomenon that got the whole family together for endless rounds of charade tennis and mime bowling. According to my figures, it sold approximately 10 gazillion units worldwide, making it the biggest selling home console of that generation. How do you follow up that kind of achievement? I think Nintendo are still trying to figure that out, because what came next somehow proved that you can’t always put a ‘U’ in ‘success’.
The very moment Nintendo announced the WiiU and its oblong controller touch screen thingy, the mighty N started to fall. Nintendo stock instantly dropped by more than 5%. Sales were abysmal, peddling just under 14 million units worldwide within its lifetime (the Wii sold 20 million in its first year). By 2014, the drop in stock culminated to a massive 17%, costing the company $3 billion in market cap. I picked up my WiiU later that year for a third of the price during a fire sale at a local Dick Smith Electronics.
Everyone has their reckons for what went wrong and, outside of Illuminati conspiracy theories, they’re probably all valid. There was no new Wii Sports that came bundled with the console, so it wasn’t instantly accessible for families. If your grandma or granddad still hadn’t figured out how to use one of those smartphone doohickies, they weren’t going to see the appeal of the WiiU. That cuts off most of the elderly demographic. Younger audiences weren’t as easy to target, either. If you wanted an electronic device to keep the kids happy, it was easier and cheaper to boot up Angry Birds on your iPhone.
Third party support was meagre at best, shovelling out ports of old games (Darksiders II, Mass Effect 3) or original titles that no one gave a shit about (ZombiU). That wasn’t going to convert the Playstation or Xbox crowds who were salivating over the new muscular systems.
All that remained were the die-hard Nintendo brethren, and I thank you for joining us this evening.
We are gathered here today to lay the WiiU to eternal rest. It has lived a short, humble, troubled life, and while we acknowledge its many woes, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate its moments of glory.
From the first day out of the box, the WiiU made its usefulness known to Wii owners. Its backwards capability was probably the most robust of any console ever made. It was able to play all of your Wii discs and could transfer all of your Wii files (save data, Virtual Console games, etc.) over to the WiiU, making your original Wii console redundant. It also had the cutest data-transferring screen of all time.
While its game library was a vastly empty landscape, there was gold to be found in this gaming Sahara.
Its first year saw the release of two top-notch platforming games. Rayman Legends double-downed on what made Rayman Origins so good – the free-flow gameplay, the gorgeous art, the slap-n-tickle humour – and made great use of the WiiU controller’s stylus to create a majorly fun couch multiplayer experience.
Super Mario 3D World also got in on the multiplayer action, creating the first four-player 3D Mario co-op platformer that worked way better than people were expecting. It wasn’t exactly a follow-up to the masterful Super Mario Galaxy games, but it still harboured some of the most fiendishly elaborate level designs you’ll see in the industry. (And being able to share your experiences/frustrations with the world via the controller’s sketch pad options was a revelatory experience.)
Pikmin 3 also came out that year, continuing the series’ Zen and zany ways on a controller that seemed designed specifically for it. The unique craftsmanship of the whole experience feels like it came from an ambitious indie studio, though it looks so gorgeous you never forget it’s from a AAA studio.
Another game that was just as zany but the total opposite of Zen, The Wonderful 101 was the Pikmin-God of War mash-up you never knew you wanted. Designed by Platinum Games, also known for OTT cult action classics Vanquish and Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance, this mad and colourful brawler had you controlling a mob of superheroes that could assume different forms like Voltron (all you had to do was draw that form on the touch pad).
The Wonderful 101 borrowed heavily from Platinum’s superb Bayonetta. In 2014, the WiiU’s best year of releases, the same studio dropped Bayonetta 2, taking almost everything they learned the first time around and crushing it harder with a gun-strapped stiletto. It’s the studio’s finest game to date, and if that wasn’t enough, they also bundled it together with the first game.
That same year, Nintendo knocked back-to-back-to-back home runs with reliable franchise entries Mario Kart 8 (the bestselling game on the console), Super Smash Bros. WiiU (a game I pumped way too many hours into), and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (which, I dare say, perfected 2D platforming).
The big N dished out some more ambitious games over the following two years. Splatoon was studio’s big dip into the multiplayer shooter realm done in typically adorable and sturdy Nintendo fashion. Super Mario Maker finally let the players go full Little Big Planet on their mascot’s world.
Platinum proved to be the most ambitious with Star Fox Zero, creating an entirely new control scheme specifically for the WiiU. Too bad it felt like controlling an intoxicated Robosapien through a Ninja Warrior course.
There weren’t many games for the WiiU that actually tried to get the most out of the console’s second screen, touch pad, and motion controls. Those that did only scratched the surface of what was possible. Unfortunately, that potential will never be realised.
Nintendo took a massive risk with the innovative Wii, one that paid off in bountiful riches. They took that same risk with the WiiU only to reveal the other, scratchier side of the coin.
The WiiU’s final exhale came in the form of the masterful Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s the beautiful swansong from an ugly duckling that never grew, and while we can lament over what will never be, we must also celebrate what can be. With an almighty “Tihei mauri ora,” Breath of the Wild filled the lungs of Nintendo’s newest console – the Switch.